Going green's good for the wallet

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 01 Mar 2014

Datuk Dr Hashim Abdul Wahab tends to his garden during his free time.

Toiling in the vegetable patch is beneficial on several fronts – adding homegrown wholesome goodness in your diet, watching the ringgit and exercising.

IF the rising cost of vegetables is making you think twice about eating your greens, it’s about time to try to start growing your own. Besides reducing the amount of money spent on marketing, you can enjoy the fruits of your labour and savour fresh vegetables.

In Kuantan, housewife Phua Soon Boy, 66, takes pride in planting vegetables in her garden. Since she started to plant vegetables in her backyard, she hardly goes to the market to pick up her favourite greens. This has resulted in Phua being able to stretch her budget.

“I get to harvest vegetables twice a week. I have managed to save a fair bit on vegetables and the extra money can be saved or used for other necessities,” said Phua, who saves about RM30-RM40 a month on her marketing expenses by growing vegetables in her garden.

For the last six years, the avid gardener has been planting her own crop, ranging from vegetables such as sweet potato leaves, bitter gourd, four-angled beans, kailan and bak choy. There are also a host of herbs ranging from basil, mint, cekor to turmeric which she uses in her daily cooking.

In her backyard, she also plants traditional Chinese medicinal plants which is said to have anti-cancer properties.

Phua Soon Boy encourages Malaysians to take up gardening and planting vegetables as a hobby as it can be fun and rewarding.
Phua Soon Boy encourages Malaysians to take up gardening and planting vegetables as a hobby as it can be fun and rewarding.

“I love plants. There’s a sense of joy in watching the plants, flowers and vegetable grow. While it is time consuming to care for plants, nothing beats the satisfaction of eating fresh vegetables from the garden.

“To make dishes more fragrant, I usually steam fish or chicken in banana leaves or turmeric leaves. It is much more nutritious and organic too,” said the mother-of-two, who also makes her own compost using home and garden waste.

She encourages Malaysians to take up gardening as a hobby as it can be fun and rewarding.

“It’s not difficult. All you need is time and interest in plants. Once one is interested in plants, you can enhance your knowledge by reading and learn from friends who share a passion for greens,” said Phua.

For Datuk Dr Hashim Abdul Wahab, 76, gardening and planting vegetables provide him with an opportunity to exercise while consuming healthier produce that are pesticide-free.

Gardening Tips

“Gardening is a way to good exercise. One bends down, stretches and sweats profusely whilst cultivating, tending the plants and manuring. It is a labour of love – love for living things such as herbs, vegetables and the landscape of ornamental plants. One gets the most satisfaction seeing the crop grow and finally harvesting the fruits of hard labour,” says the former director-general of the Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB).

At his 12,000 sq ft home in Kajang, Dr Hashim devotes a large portion of his time tending to his vegetable plot where spinach, lady’s finger, sweet potato, brinjal, sweet corn and long beans grow. There’s also a wide range of herbs and medicinal plants ranging from noni, tongkat ali, kaduk (piper sarmentosum), senduduk (melastoma malabathricum) to pegaga (Indian pennywort).

The septuagenarian has a keen interest in herbs and regard them as natural health food that can be used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes too.

“Malaysia’s biodiversity is rich with over 1,200 plant species known to have therapeutic values as these species contain useful metabolites. Many types of herbs can be consumed as juice, ulam or processed into various forms such as dried leaves and consumed for medicinal purposes.

“For example, mengkudu helps treat cutaneous diseases such as boils, itches and is good for arteriosclerosis, asthma and diabetes. The fruit pulp can be processed into juice and taken as laxative. Lemongrass is a remedy for flatulence, gastric and irregular bowel movement. Its tea is said to be good against cancer,” says Dr Hashim, whose vast knowledge of plants and their benefits can be attributed to his years at the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi).

His last position there was as deputy director-general (Commodity Research) before being transferred to MCB.

To stay healthy, he starts his breakfast with herbal and fruit juices formulated using vegetables/herbs from his garden.

While vegetable planting may not be a low maintenance hobby, the agriculturist has no complains, stating that there’s nothing more satisfying than watching his crops grow.

“The most challenging part about gardening and growing vegetables is finding land suitable for growing plants. It is equally time consuming to care for plants while having control over garden pests.

“Despite the hurdles, I’ve discovered that lady’s fingers, sweet potato, sweet maize, brinjal, tapioca and cekur manis are easy to grow. However, pegaga – my favourite herb for juice and ulam – is difficult to grow as snails just love them. Once they discover its existence they will devour whatever plants around and before you know it, the plants that you painstakingly took the trouble to establish, are gone,” explained the agriculturist who spends between one and two hours tending to his plants daily.

Related stories:

Be cheap, but not too cheap ...

Food for thought

When the going gets tough, less is more

There's money to be made elsewhere

Balanced diet an essential element

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